British Forces Leave Wilmington and N.C., 1781

Maj. James Craig, who commanded the British troops occupying Wilmington. Image courtesy of the Library and Archives of Canada.On November 18, 1781, British forces under Maj. James Craig evacuated Wilmington. Previously, the town was threatened by the Loyalist campaign that culminated in the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge in 1776, and was afterwards briefly blockaded by a British fleet.

Major Craig captured Wilmington, North Carolina’s major seaport, in January 1781. With less than 300 men available for duty, he could do nothing to expand British control of the area. He received little support from local Loyalists due to the small size of his command.

In April, Craig was briefly joined by the main British force in North Carolina under Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who had withdrawn eastward to be resupplied after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

Following Cornwallis’s departure for Virginia, Craig was left to hold Wilmington. In October, Gen. Griffith Rutherford of the North Carolina Militia launched a campaign to recapture the town for the Patriot side. Defeating Loyalist forces in a series of small clashes, the Militia gradually closed in.

Outnumbered, Craig had no choice but to evacuate the town by sea. His departure marked the end of a British presence in the state, although some Loyalist activity continued.

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